COOK COUNTY, IL – As gun ownership continues to rise dramatically, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with local children’s hospitals to distribute free gun locks to help keep firearms out of the hands of children, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.
“Few things are more senselessly tragic than the grievous injury of death or a child due to a loaded, unlocked firearm in the home,” Sheriff Dart said. “If you have a firearm, it is your responsibility to ensure that it is locked and kept away from anyone who shouldn’t have access to it, especially children.”
The number of Illinoisans who have applied for Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) cards jumped 190 percent in recent years, from nearly 167,000 in 2017 to more than 483,000 in 2020, according to the Illinois State Police. Federal background checks for Illinois residents have exploded 430 percent, from nearly 1.6 million in 2017 to nearly 8.5 million in 2021, according to FBI records.
Unfortunately, many gun owners may not have been educated on how to store their firearms to prevent them from being accessed by children, or they may not be aware of state and local laws governing safe storage around minors (i).
The Sheriff’s Office will be distributing hundreds of simple, effective gun locks to Advocate Children’s Hospital, University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, La Rabida Children’s Hospital, and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital to provide free-of-charge to families they encounter who may have a gun in their home or know someone who does. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office produced a short online video demonstrating how to use the locks on the most common types of firearms.
“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in this country,” says Dr. Frank Belmonte, Advocate’s Chief Medical Officer. “We view accidental gun deaths as a critical pediatric health care issue. That’s why, as pediatric health care providers, we appreciate the opportunity to partner with the Sheriff and his team on this important initiative. If we save just one child’s life, it will have been worth it.”
Locking up guns and ammunition reduces the risk of self-inflicted or unintentional injury to children and teens by 85 percent, according to a report published by the gun safety advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety.
“As pediatricians, our primary recommendation is to store firearms outside the homes where children reside, but we recognize that this is not feasible for every family,” said Dr. Samaa Kemal, emergency medicine physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital. “For those who keep a firearm in the home, we recommend keeping them locked, unloaded, and stored separately from ammunition. These simple steps can be lifesaving,”
Storing a loaded gun inside an unlocked drawer, closet, or similar location is not safe storage. Below are some simple safety steps to ensure secured storage and provide additional barriers against unauthorized persons:
- Unloaded firearms should be stored in a safe, locked cabinet, gun vault, or a secured storage case.
- Gun locking devices render firearms inoperable and can be used in addition to locked storage.
- It is best practice to disassemble your firearms, and parts should be securely stored in separate locations.
- Ammunition should also be stored in a locked location separate from firearms.
- Thoroughly double check all firearms to confirm that they are unloaded when you remove them from storage.
“We are committed to not only treating children who have been exposed to trauma, but to preventing trauma when possible,” said Austa A. Murray, Executive Director of Behavioral Health and Community Programs at La Rabida Children’s Hospital. “This partnership allows us to potentially prevent more violence and trauma in the communities we serve.”
The gun locks were provided to the Sheriff’s Office by Project Child Safe, and the Office has requested more locks to provide to hospitals once the initial supply is exhausted.
“For individuals who may be reluctant to talk to law enforcement, these medical professionals are in a unique position to encourage people to make sure their firearms are safely stored and secured,” Sheriff Dart said. “The Sheriff’s Office and the dedicated doctors and nurses at these hospitals share a common goal: to do whatever we can to help keep families safe and prevent potential injury and the tragic loss of innocent life.”
For more information on how to properly utilize a gun safety lock, please watch the demonstration video at https://vimeo.com/766217096/3524de9739.
i Illinois state law governs gun storage in homes with children under age 14 (see (720 ILCS 5/24-9); the City of Chicago Municipal Code governs gun storage for minors under age 18 (see Chapter 8-20-050); Cook County ordinance governs gun storage for individuals under age 21 (see Sections 58-202 and 58-205).